Brokers Can and Should Embrace the Role of Human Capital Manager
Over the last few years, insurance brokers have had to process shock after shock: pandemic shutdowns, the Great Resignation, soaring inflation.
And this year, healthcare plan costs are projected to increase 5.4%. Employers and employees alike are feeling the squeeze.
Given this economic reality, now is a prime opportunity for brokers to rethink their role: more than just a link to benefits, they can act as strategic advisers, helping guide employers through complex human capital management strategies and toward a more productive workplace with greater engagement and lower turnover.
Sounds great, but how can brokers make this leap? Here’s a look at how this new role might manifest and the forces that will facilitate the transition.
From Benefits Advisor to Human Capital Manager
Today, brokers have to do more than simply advise employers about which benefits to offer employees. They must also be familiar with the technology available to guide benefits selection and administration. They have to be compliance experts. They have to be top-tier communicators to ensure every employee gets the information they need when they need it.
That’s a lot to balance.
And in the coming years, brokers may be expected to do even more. In fact, many are already having conversations with clients that go beyond the logistics of benefits and deal more with the strategy behind them: which benefits will help an employer attract more talent? Which will help them retain their staff?
One thing that may help brokers manage all of these expectations is to rethink their role. As a human capital manager, their job is to help employers “optimize” the “asset” that is employees. To do this well, brokers can both tap into hyper-local data sources like workplace surveys and pull insight from nationwide trends to inform their benefits recommendations.
For example, maybe a recent company survey reveals that many employees have trouble finding mental health providers covered by the workplace’s current plan. That’s a good indication that the employer might want to consider another insurer at renewal time. It’s easy enough to see how this can improve life (and therefore engagement) for the team: better access to mental healthcare equals better-managed mental health conditions, which equals better workplace performance.
Addressing Healthcare Costs
It’s just as important to keep the bigger picture in mind, especially for sensitive topics that employees may not feel comfortable divulging, even in an anonymous survey. For example:
- 80% of employees worry about their personal finances during work hours, and the average employee spends more than three hours of work time per month on personal finance issues.
- As many as 38% of Americans deferred medical care in 2022 because of the cost.
This is the kind of information that brokers can use to make sure they’re offering employers every potential option to help employees access and pay for medical care. Those might include both the familiar FSAs and HSAs but also a newer entrant to the space, the HPA (health payment account), which lets employers offer a small credit allowance with no fees or interest to help employees pay for care at the point of service.
HPAs are unlike tax-advantaged savings accounts in that they make funds available to employees from their first day of employment, which employees then pay back in interest-free installments. Importantly, there’s no risk to the employer for unpaid balances and employees have an easy and accessible way to turn stressful medical bills into manageable repayment plans.
Another broad trend to consider is the state-level restriction of certain types of healthcare services, especially for pregnant people and trans people. As employers increasingly prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts, brokers can provide valuable guidance on how to ensure that a workplace offers equitable access to care for all employees.
For example, one organization has supplemented its standard healthcare benefits with an “equitable access to care” benefit, which offers funds to cover the costs of traveling to receive care that is no longer offered within an employee’s state of residence.
Moving forward, the best brokers will be able to advise employers on a variety of solutions that support population health across diverse groups of employees. One trend that will support them in this and other aspects of the human capital manager role is the rise of price transparency.
Price Transparency Will Change the Game
As human capital managers, brokers help employers meet employee needs so they can be as productive as possible. Today, one major challenge brokers (and employers and employees) face is that so much of healthcare pricing is opaque and difficult to predict.
In the U.S. healthcare system, you don’t know what you’ll pay for a service until it’s complete. And even then, new bills might arrive weeks or months after the event. For many families, this uncertainty is a constant source of stress. Even when employers do everything in their power to provide supportive benefits, they cannot eliminate the stress caused by price obfuscation.
But that’s about to change.
As of 2021, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has required hospitals to publish their prices in both machine-readable and consumer-friendly formats. On July 1, 2022, a similar rule took effect for insurance providers. Today, compliance isn’t yet at 100%, but CMS has signaled that it will step up enforcement.
It would be hard to overstate the potential impact these rules could have on the country’s healthcare system. But as far as brokers are concerned, a lot will depend on the tools built on top of this data.
CMS has explicitly stated that it expects third parties to build tools that empower healthcare consumers to make price-informed decisions about medical care. Brokers could use a tool built with this data to help employers choose the best insurance provider for their employees—or to help employers create cost-related incentives for certain types of shoppable care.
Then, too, transparent pricing could have positive effects that ripple outward throughout the healthcare system. Today, 55% of insurance companies are seeing later-stage disease diagnoses because of deferred care. These diagnoses come with more expensive treatments, which could lead to further deferral and further cost increases (not to mention more sickness, which impacts employee wellbeing and company productivity).
When employees know the cost of a service ahead of time—and can even choose a provider based on cost—they’re less likely to have uncertainty-related stress about the cost of their care. When those employees also have access to employer-sponsored payment assistance (in the form of FSAs, HSAs, and HPAs), they’re more likely to seek care earlier, when treatment costs are likely to be more reasonable.
And the brokers who help employers understand this evolving landscape will be viewed as invaluable strategic partners.
It’s never been a more challenging time to be a broker. But I’ve also never witnessed a time when a broker’s work can have a bigger, more meaningful impact on clients’ ability to attract and retain employees, drive engagement, and foster an inclusive workplace culture.
I’m optimistic that many of us will do our best work in this environment, setting clients and their teams up to support not only business success but also, most importantly, healthy families.